Adventure games have always held a special place in my heart, and now there’s a new one to capture our interest!
King’s Quest, Monkey Island, Sam and Max, etc; they all had something special about them. I like to think that it’s the way adventure games make a story interactive. And since there’s a resurgence of the genre by some big industry heavy hitters, it’s refreshing to see an indie throw their hat into the ring. Dark Scavenger goes a step further, breathing new life into two classic genres by amalgamating point and click adventure games with the classic turn-based rpgs (like the early final fantasy games, etc). It’s an interesting mix, and one that works really well. Players assume the role of a faceless “outsider” floating through space. Saved by a roving space crew called the Dark Scavengers, the player sets out on mission to acquire fuel for the ship from the planet below. This begins a quirky story that is equal parts odd, funny, and surprisingly thought-provoking.
The story is well written; classic sci-fi elements, a touch a philosophy, and even clever word-play and foreshadowing. What’s most incredible is the ever-so-subtle mix of wordplay and philosophy. There are some very solid philosophical questions posed throughout the game, and there are some pretty heavy discussions that can arise from really examining those questions. Video games usually opt for the philosophy-lite approach to prove their point/message; not so with Dark Scavenger. Linear as the story may seem, there is a lot of ethical and moral philosophy at work here than is the norm, and it’s really quite cool to so that utilized so well in a game. The character’s are also well written and developed, which makes this philosophical questions even more interesting when these characters touch on them. I tended to care what the character’s thought, and worried about their well-being; granted, that’s mostly a reflection of my morality and attachment to well-written characters, but my feelings towards the characters not only impacted the story, but became a reflection of my views on the philosophies presented. All of this intellectual mumbo-jumbo matters though, and the subtleties actually end up providing different choices during the text events. The writing was superb, with everything being very appropriate and true to character, context, and story. Also, it’s incredibly funny; the wry humour and quick wit of the contexts and characters had me laughing out loud constantly.
The graphics in Dark Scavenger are interesting, to say the least. A very unique, 2D painted style brings to life the characters and environments, but it always feels very flat (no pun intended). The static nature makes environements very quickly feel stale, and I often found myself torn between wanting to delve deeper into the mini-stories of each screen, and becoming bored enough of them to want to rush on to the next one. It’s honestly one of the few failings this game has. I’m not saying it should be moved to a 3D style or 2.5D, although that would be interesting to see. It’s just that the style itself feels almost suited to the kinds of art you’d see on Deviant ART pages; great stuff, but it feels out of place in a game. It’d be better on the cover of a choose-your-own-adventure book. And I loved those books. Come to think of this, Dark Scavenger is somewhat like a choose-your-own-adventure; now I’m torn (ok, THAT pun was intended).
The music has me in awe though: what the visuals are lacking, the audio more than makes up for it. Rarely do game soundtracks evoke such emotion or feelings. Usually the audio for games will suit the subject matter, and that’s as far as it goes. But Dark Scavenger does well to evoke the sense of intrusion, of the outsider being where they shouldn’t be. From space, to the otherworldy planet, to creatures viewing YOU as the alien, to discovering the secrets of the planet Didella, the music carries with it that Sci-Fi feel; spooky, yet adventurous. Does it make sense to say that the music carries with it the sense of philosophical investigation that the story slowly exposes you to?
The gameplay really shines through for me, and it’s one of the most interesting and, in a sense (kinda) feels unique. Other than simple point-and-click adventure mechanics and text events that feel like I’m playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends, the combat really struck a chord with me. The synergy between the different combat forms (weapons, items, allies) allows for some surprisingly deep combat mechanics. I say surprisingly, because on the surface the combat appears to be like any other turn-based combat. Select attack, hit enemy. Simple. And I suppose it could stay that simple if you wanted, but I doubt you’d ever really enjoy the combat. I suppose you could also look into how each of the Elements (fire, wind, electrical, gissa) and attack types (like Latex and Wombat – yes, you read that correctly) work together; I suppose you could look at the different effects each item/weapon/ally has (like the Awesome Detector, which detects awesome). I still can’t figure how that last one fits in the game (I’ve asked the Devs, and they gave me reply that it’s something cool I’ll have to figure out on my own. I had to smile at that), but it’s intriguing. As I said before, it’s surprisingly deep and intricate for a (mostly) text-based, turn-based combat.
There’s tons of replayability, given that there are many different choices to make, and so many different weapons/items/allies to get. I’m loving this game, and it certainly doesn’t have to be a blockbuster game to ensnare me with it’s unique approach to a hybrid genre. The art style just doesn’t seem to fit, but the character design is great, if that makes any sense. It’s a great game, and one you should definitely look into picking up if you’re a fan of great writing in games, or you’re looking for a unique indie take on adventure rpgs. It’s also incredibly tongue-in-cheek, and I honestly haven’t laughed so hard or for so long from a game in a very long time.